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8 substitute teacher tips to support your students

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

Substitute teachers are the behind-the-scenes magic that ensure schools can operate every day. They're the ones who come in when a teacher is sick, on maternity leave or just needs a break. Although they're often not regular teacher faculty, they can still make a difference in students' lives by being flexible, caring and open-minded.

Here are 8 tips for substitute teachers to support their students:

1. Remain flexible

If you want to be a successful substitute teacher, flexibility is key. The best way to connect with students is by being flexible enough to meet their needs and interests. This can mean helping one student who struggles with schoolwork but excels at art projects. Flexibility can also come in handy when working with special-needs students; some may need more time than others do for tasks such as copying notes from the board or completing assignments at home. If you're not sure what a particular assignment will require, ask ahead of time so that you can prepare accordingly.

2. A substitute teacher can make an impact on students by being reliable and caring

As a substitute teacher, you have the opportunity to make an impact on students' lives. You can help them feel comfortable and secure in your classroom while their regular teacher is out.

The best way to do this is by being reliable and caring. This means showing up on time (or even early), always having the right materials ready for the day's lesson plan, making sure all students understand what is expected of them before dismissing class time at the end of each period or period block.

3. Be prepared

  • Follow the lesson plan, or have one ready.

  • Show interest in the students, as the leader, not their friend.

  • Know the school.

  • Understand what curriculum you're teaching and why it's important to your students' learning process--and if it isn't, find out why!

  • Be familiar with all school policies regarding discipline issues or other concerns that could arise during your time in front of those kids!

Substitute teacher tips for supporting students

4. Be yourself

The best way to connect with students is to be yourself. You don't have to be perfect or know everything about their culture and background, but you should be open-minded and willing to learn from them. They'll appreciate that you're interested in who they are as people, not just what they know (or don't).

I've learned this lesson firsthand: In one of my classes last year, I met a student named Elena who was new at our school and didn't speak much English; she did most of her communicating via Google Translate on her phone! At first I was worried about how we would communicate effectively--but as soon as we started talking about what music she liked and why, it became clear that Elena had all kinds of interesting insights into pop culture that most teenagers would enjoy sharing with each other.

5. Go with the flow

It's easy for a substitute teacher to get stuck in the routine of their classroom, but it's important that you remain flexible. You may need to change your plans on the fly if the class is not cooperating or if an emergency arises. Don't let yourself be surprised by unexpected events.

6. Remember that every student has potential

The most important thing to remember is that every student has potential. No matter how much of a problem child they might appear to be in class, there's always a way to motivate them and get them engaged.

  • Remember that every student has different needs. Some students are motivated by competition or praise; others need more structure and clear goals. You'll need to figure out what works best for each kid in your class so they know exactly what they're trying to achieve when doing their work or completing an assignment.

  • Encourage students who are doing well with positive reinforcement like high-fives or cheers (or even just an extra pat on the back). This will help keep these kids motivated as well!

7. Keep notes

It's always recommend to leave a note/short report for the regular teacher at the end of your assignment. But it's helpful to keep a few notes for yourself as well, these will be very helpful if you get the chance to work with that class again. It will help you build rapport with the students if you can recall things from your previous time together.

Substitute teacher tips -  student writing

8. Substitute teachers can make a difference in a child's life

They can help students cultivate a love of learning and to be respectful of others. This is especially important as students move into middle school and high school where they will begin making decisions that will affect their future.

Long-term subs can make an impact simply by being reliable, and showing up everyday with a positive attitude. Despite their tough exterior, these are kids, and they want to know that the adult leaders in their life will continue to be there to support them.

It's important to remember that every student has the potential and the ability to learn if given the right support, so be prepared with resources that will help them succeed.


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